Issue 1
Monday, 02 March 2020
Charles Darwin University
Political Science PhD candidate Michael Hartwig
Political Science PhD candidate Michael Hartwig

Research focuses on remote voting behaviour

By Patrick Nelson

A retired accountant undertaking PhD research at Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs will be paying closer attention than most to the upcoming Northern Territory election.

Northern Institute political scientist Michael Hartwig is examining what motivates Indigenous people in remote electorates to vote the way they do.

Mr Hartwig said he was focussing on the electorates of Arafura, Arnhem, Barkly, Daly, Gwoja (formerly Stuart), Mulka (formerly Nhulunbuy) and Namatjira.

“Five of these seven seats changed hands at the 2012 Territory election after shunning the CLP for over 30 years. However, the flirtation lasted only four years until the 2016 election. Why was it that they voted one way in 2012 and another in 2016?”

Mr Hartwig said one of the themes of his thesis was “are you listening” and that underpinning this was the notion of improving democracy to remote Australians.

“The ‘tyranny of distance’ is a major impediment to the provision of democracy in the remote areas of Australia and, in particular, the Northern Territory,” Mr Hartwig said.

“The provision of services taken for granted in the cities and larger rural communities become a hugely expensive exercise for governments and members in remote communities.”

Mr Hartwig said that electoral commission figures indicated that less than 40% of eligible Aboriginal people voted in the 2016 NT election.

“In mobile polling booths, less than 37% of those enrolled actually cast a vote. This is in a jurisdiction where registration and voting are compulsory.

“The provision of health, education and legal services to those remote communities are also of major concern to government and residents. How can governments and Aboriginal people better interact to find solutions to such concerns?

“It behoves us to consider a better way to handle this country and the people in it than we’ve done so far. Or at least listen. So, I’m asking: ‘what are the barriers preventing Aboriginal Australians from getting their voices heard and being listened to’?”

Mr Hartwig said he planned to spend time in each electorate before the 22 August poll. 

“I’ll be speaking with senior people in each electorate about community attitudes and about the factors that have influenced outcomes,” Mr Hartwig said.